Jagran thrives on trust: Shailesh Gupta

In an exclusive interview, Gupta, Director of Jagran Prakashan Limited and President of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), spells out the agenda before the Group and for INS in the time of COVID-19

e4m by Nawal Ahuja
Updated: Aug 6, 2020 8:56 AM
Shailesh Gupta

At the diversified Jagran Group, 50-year-old Shailesh Gupta, Director of Jagran Prakashan Limited (JPL), also manages an important portfolio – that of Marketing and Advertising – which has been key to the Group’s performance and the flagship Dainik Jagran’s supremacy in Print over the years.

In fact, commenting on JPL’s Q1 results on July 31, 2020, the Group’s patriarch Mahendra Mohan Gupta, Chairman and Managing Director, JPL, said that by way of significant cost savings and tirelessly looking for revenue opportunities, the Group has added a number of new advertisers and ensured liquidity for the business to continue unhindered despite the challenges of lockdown.

“The Group was able to keep its cash losses lower than expected and improve its liquidity further, which is the need of the hour. The Group will remain agile to capitalize on every opportunity which these difficult times may offer,” the senior Gupta said. 

Here are excerpts from a conversation that Nawal Ahuja, Director of the exchange4media Group, had with Shailesh Gupta, Director, Jagran Prakashan Limited and President of the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), in which he takes us through the working of the Group’s different verticals and the agenda before INS in the time of COVID-19, with the Print medium facing challenging times.

With a total readership of nearly 7 crore, Dainik Jagran has held No. 1 position across languages pan India since 2003 as per the Indian Readership Survey (IRS). To what do you attribute this – what factors helped Dainik Jagran maintain this lead?

A very strong focus on creating quality content for our readers and relentless focus on good journalism lie at the core of our product offering. At the same time, we engage very strongly with our readers and collaborate with them to create community-level change. This reader engagement is a continuous exercise.

What’s the traction that you see from Jagran New Media (JNM), the online arm for JPL, with nine portals under it? What is its contribution to revenue for the Group?

Jagran New Media has done very well over the last few years. Our brand’s content credibility drives our digital presence. We also launched another portal, vishwas.news, to promote credible journalism.

The fact-checking news portal has been created with the intent to reduce the dissemination of misinformation and is certified by International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).

We have a strong social outreach through Facebook and Twitter, and our strong technology ecosystem provides a seamless experience to users. With a relentless focus on good journalism, we have 26 million Facebook fans, and we’re the first newspaper brand to reach this milestone on social media.

During Q1 2020-21, the digital business under Jagran New Media registered rapid growth in the News/Information category and we crossed the 100 million user benchmark with 108 million users, 817 million page views and 925 million minutes time spent.

This represents an annual growth of 107%, 65% and 85% respectively, over May’19 (ComScore MMX: May’20).

Within the Hindi News and Information category, the company’s flagship brand jagran.com further consolidated its leadership position with a constant growth in terms of users, page views and time spent.

It clocked a reach of 72 million unique visitors, 410 million page views, 502 million minutes time spent with an annual growth of 131%, 70% and 63% respectively, over May’19 (ComScore MMX: May’20)

In the education category,  JagranJosh.com continued its success run with 32 million unique Users, 225 million page views and 191 million minutes time spent, witnessing a considerable annual growth of 38%, 39% and 50%, respectively over May’19 (ComScore MMX: May’20).

Onlymyhealth.com maintained its leadership in the Indian Health-Information category with 8 million unique users, 19 million page views and 19 million minutes time spent (ComScore MMX: May’20).

HerZindagi.com consolidated its position in the women’s lifestyle category and reached 13 million unique Users, 33 million page views and 32 million minutes time spent, witnessing a considerable annual growth of  616%, 531% and 377%, respectively over May’19 (ComScore MoMX: May’20)

Please tell us about the recent big digital newspaper innovation at Mid-day – the Mid-day Digital Tabloid.

During the lockdown, the distribution of physical copies of Mid-day in Mumbai was under severe pressure. People were reading the e-paper online, but somehow the real newspaper reading experience was missing.

The idea was to figure out how to get as close to the real newspaper-reading experience as possible. That’s when we decided to launch a completely new digital format – the Mid-day Digital Tabloid.

This is a subscription-based model, which ensures that the reader gets a value added reading experience with fresh elements and innovations in the paper.

There are moving pictures, embedded videos and interviews and animation features – all of which create an enhanced reading experience, and at the same time generate revenues as well.

Unlike metros, most markets in various States are open and business activity has picked up. How do you assess the markets for advertising potential in Print post the lockdown? Will recovery be led by urban or Tier II and Tier III markets?

With barely 7% of active COVID-19 cases in the core Hindi belt markets, it’s clear that the Tier II and Tier III economies in these areas will open up faster to economic activity and extending this thought forward - it is highly likely that India’s economic recovery may well be led by these small towns.

Non-metro markets will rebound faster than the metro markets. Non-metro markets have shown higher resilience than metro markets and could recover faster.

 As per an EY survey, the percentage of respondents who expected to spend more than before on a majority of categories was much higher in non-metro markets, indicating that when the lockdowns end, green shoots of recovery would probably sprout faster in these markets. Non-metro consumers are going out shopping more regularly.

As far as potential for Print is concerned, during the pandemic, Print has emerged as the most credible and trusted medium – almost 2X of TV and 1.5X of online.

You have clear dominance in the Hindi-Speaking Markets; are you looking to focus on any new market or target a new State in the near future?

We are not looking at any new State or market in the near future. We intend to consolidate our strength in the existing markets as of now.

News publications going behind a paywall for online content is a recent phenomenon in the Indian media and entertainment industry. What is your view of the online subscription revenue model for Indian news publications? Do we see you put up a paywall for your online content at any point?

Several newspapers have created paywalls to access their digital content, and it’s only fair. A huge amount of cost is incurred in creating content, and if content owners decide to put it behind a paywall, it’s absolutely fair and fine.

India is ready to pay for digital subscriptions, but not yet at a mass level. However, different pricing mechanisms will evolve, and over a period of time, one would see people paying for digital subscriptions of newspapers.

Do you think cover prices of newspapers need to go up? Do newspapers need to focus on bumping up this stream of revenue?

On the circulation front, we’ve undertaken increase in cover prices whenever prudent. Through better efficiencies, we’ve been able to reduce unsold copies. Therefore, the circulation numbers have been maintained at competitive levels. Once circulation numbers are at optimum competitive levels, advertising tends to follow through. Going forward, as an industry, we need to be more prudent on cover prices.

As president of the Indian Newspaper Society, what are some of the things you will do to drive the agenda of Print in the new post COVID-19 situation?

How do you see the future of India’s newspaper business and what are the challenges? At the industry level, we’ve come together and made a representation to the Government for the total removal of 5% Customs duty on newsprint, sought a two-year tax holiday for newspaper establishments, 50% increase in advertisement rates of Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC) and 200% increase in budget spend for Print media and immediate settlement of payment towards all outstanding bills of advertising from BOC.

Alongside, there are several cost-optimization measures that most newspapers have been implementing.

Specifically from the news and information consumption standpoint, I believe that that the future holds exciting prospects.

 The good news is that more people will consume more media. At the same time, there will be more content producers than ever before. This will be aided by more platforms for dispersion of news.

Specifically on Print, I believe that the fundamental strength of the language Press lies in its deep grass root connect. Print’s unique ability to localize and customize along with mass reach is what makes it an important part of the media mix.

This strength is unique and difficult to be replicated by any media. It is on the back of this strength that the language Press has grown and will continue to do so in the near foreseeable future.

INS had told the Government recently that in the next six-seven months, the industry stares at a possible loss of Rs 12,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore. Is there any development on the two-year tax holiday and other demands put forward by the INS?

None yet, but talks are on. We do hope to see a favourable outcome on that front.

In the wake of PM Modi’s ‘Vocal for Local’ call, do you think Indian newspapers will start using indigenous newsprint because bulk of the newsprint used by big players in the industry are imported?

As far as we are concerned, we’re already using a fair proportion of Indian newsprint.

Talking of your Radio business, at what stage is the acquisition of Big FM by Radio City now? What are your expectations from the deal once it gets MIB approval?

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has not yet approved the proposal.

It’s not been the best year for Radio. Private FM Radio players under the aegis of AROI have recently sought a bailout financial package from the Government as well as restoration of government advertising on FM Radio. What is the way forward for your Radio business?

Radio is an extremely powerful medium and has suffered over the last year due to the government sector not performing as well, and recently due to the COVID-19 crisis.

However, in times to come, Radio will bounce back on the advertising front and will do well.

Talking of the Jagran Group, how have the ‘Saat Sarokar’ or ‘7 Principles’ helped the business?

What would you see as the key advantages of following this philosophy?

I think our focus on the ‘Saat Sarokar’ or ‘7 Principles’ is what makes us stand apart. Our brand purpose draws from the seven principles of Dainik Jagran.

These principles are at the core of our editorial philosophy. Action in these areas was, therefore, an imperative to build any emotional connect with people – as this comes straight from the brand’s purpose of existence.

These seven principles are Poverty Eradication, Healthy Society, Educated Society, Women’s Empowerment, Environment Conservation, Water Conservation and Population Management.

Every day, Jagran delivers enriching and empowering content to its readers in line with these seven principles.

 This ranges from a daily column on health and well-being, to a youth-centric supplement focusing on providing them with access to job opportunities, to content catering specifically to the needs of women readers.

Acquisitions have been a big part of your growth strategy, with Nai Dunia, Mid-day, Radio City and now Big FM. What next on the expansion front? Do you see yourself entering the TV domain at any point?

As of now, we are focusing on consolidating our presence across the verticals that we have presence in. There’s no plan of expansion as of now.

What is your vision for Jagran Prakashan, say five years from now?

Specifically from the news and information consumption standpoint, I believe that that the future holds exciting prospects.

The good news is that more people will consume more media. At the same time, there will be more content producers than ever before. This will be aided by more platforms for dispersion of news. At the forefront of this will be Jagran.

Our brand is trusted by millions of people across large swathes of the country from the urban landscape to the furthest corners of rural India. We drive discourses that our audiences are passionate about, and love to participate in.

On the firm foundation of our leadership in the media and communications arena, we are enhancing scale and scope of operations for the next lap of the journey.

ith every passing day, we reaffirm our commitment to our vision - just like the morning sun dispels darkness and brings warmth to the world, Jagran will transform lives through enlightening and enriching experiences.

What is your comment on flexi work timings and work from home that has become the new normal in these times? In what ways do you see the post-COVID workplace evolving in your organisation?

The COVID-19 crisis has brought alive the issue of work from home. It would have its fair share of impact across several industries.

However, media is classified as an essential service and most of our people have been working from office. At the same time, given the gravity and scale of the COVID-19 crisis, several of our employees worked from home as well.

What will it take for the media and advertising industry to come back to normal? What are the top three suggestions you would like to make for the industry to get growth back?

We will need to do the basics well. Focus on creating great content, engage readers deeply, and create a great environment for advertising in our pages.

We will have to focus on the basics of the business. During this crisis, newspapers have emerged as the largest and the most credible source of news and information.

This talks volumes of the intrinsic strength and commitment of the industry. We will have to leverage this strength and provide a credible platform for advertisers to talk to their consumers.

Also, my sense is that a large part of the Tier II and Tier III markets would recover faster than the metros, and that would help push growth across our markets.

At the industry level, we’ve come together and made a representation to the Government for the total removal of 5% Customs duty on newsprint, two-year tax holiday for newspaper establishments and other relief measures.

Alongside, there are several cost optimization measures that most newspapers have been implementing.

It’s been a bloodbath in the media industry so far with many companies laying off employees, shutting down units and slashing salaries. Considering that the COVID-19 crisis may impact the next two quarters, what is the future of jobs in the media and entertainment industry?

The prime reason is the drop in advertising revenue. Different organisations are looking at different cost optimization strategies. Budgets are being relooked at, annual plans are being reshuffled, several cost-cutting measures are being taken to ensure that the losses are minimized.

What positive outcomes do you see being carried forward into the future working of the media and advertising industry from this time?

Every crisis comes with an opportunity to learn something. Even this will teach us something about the business. These are unprecedented circumstances and everyone is trying to grapple around the issue. We’ve faced many crises earlier as well and have emerged stronger. This too shall pass, and we’ll come out stronger.

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